Introduction to ethics
by David Stone
Using the Bible
It’s a very well suggesting that the Bible can help guide us in determining right and wrong, but how are we to use it? After all the most recent parts were written almost two thousand years ago. So how can it be of any real help to us today? In some places it’s not always exactly clear what some words mean. And even when we think we know, how can we be sure that we’re right?
Still another hurdle is the question of what to do when one part of the Bible seems to contradict what another part says. Which part are we to choose? We need to bear in mind that you can’t use the Bible like a cookery book. It doesn’t give precise instructions for what to do in every situation. Apart from anything else, many of the dilemmas we face now were entirely unknown at the historical times of the people who wrote the Bible. And many of the issues that did concern them seem to be entirely irrelevant to us today.
You need to look at each part of the Bible and see what style it has been written in. Some of it seems reasonably straightforward, but some looks like historical narrative and other parts are poetry.
Some Christians try to isolate neat and clear instructions from the rest of what the Bible says. This has the possibility of giving a simplistic view of life. Other people go to the opposite extreme. They concentrate on the differences between the culture of the Bible and the way the world is now. Consequently, it becomes virtually impossible to pin anything down that is relevant to us today.
The first group makes the mistake of ignoring the fact that the Bible, though inspired by God, is still a very different from our own. The Bible tells a story that progressively reveals God and his standards. As a result, individual passages need to be seen in the light of the whole. The second group concentrates so much ob the Bible as a human book that they discount its ability to convey the word of God at all.
The right path lies in between these two extremes. We need to take the Bible seriously. It is the timeless word of God It is also the word of God expressed through the particular cultures of the ancient Near East.
For Christians, using the Bible properly means seeking to step into the shoes of those who first heard and read it. This allows them to understand what basic principles God was teaching. Their task then is to apply these principles to current situations.
A Biblical Framework
As we have already noted, biblical ethics are fundamentally God-centred. He is at the centre of the universe he created. He continues to take an active interest in his creation. This means that if he has given us any indication of how things ought to be, then the wisest course of action is to do what he says.
The best way to find out how to use a piece of equipment is to consult the maker’s instruction manual. This explains why, again and again, the rules set out in the Bible relate back to God. For example,the first of the Ten Commandments is ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3).
Such a commandment doesn’t stand in isolation. Instead it is based on the truth stated in the previous sentence. This explains who God is in terms of what he has done for people: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’ (Exodus 20:2).
Biblical ethics are fundamentally God-centred
Guidelines for action in the Bible are based on the character and activity of God: ‘Because I am like this and have done such-and-such, you are to do the following…’
Related to this is the important principle that people are called to reflect God’s character. In the New Testament there is an instruction that Christians should ‘be imitators of God, as dearly loved children’ (Ephesians 5:1). This echoes the Old Testament instruction to ‘be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy’ (Leviticus 19:2).
The general idea is to observe how God acts and then follow, walking ‘in all his ways’ (Deuteronomy 10:12). God’s character is one that loves the people he has made. Our task is to learn to reflect that love. This is why love has a central place in biblical ethics. We are encourage to show the same love towards our fellow human beings that God shows to them and to us.
Read more : Christian Views on Ethics part 03